Do We Need A Democratic 'Contract For America'?
by Scott Shields, Tue Mar 07, 2006 at 06:58:18 AM EST
(One of the odd things about group blogging is that you run the risk of writing about the same stories as your fellow bloggers. Typically, when that happens, I just scrap whatever I was working on and move on to something new. But with this story, I think it's worth adding my two cents since Chris and I approach it from different angles. That, and the Post story is so stupid, I think a pile-on is warranted here.)
It's pretty funny to read a story on the front page of a newspaper before flipping through it to find a columnist laying waste to the very premise the story was predicated upon. That's exactly the case in this morning's Washington Post, with Shailagh Murray and Charles Babington writing about Democrats' "struggle to seize opportunity" and E.J. Dionne slapping them back down.
First up, the front page narrative that Democrats can't pull it together.
News about GOP political corruption, inept hurricane response and chaos in Iraq has lifted Democrats' hopes of winning control of Congress this fall. But seizing the opportunity has not been easy, as they found when they tried to unveil an agenda of their own. ...
There is no agreement on whether to try to nationalize the congressional campaign with a blueprint or "contract" with voters, as the Republicans did successfully in 1994, or to keep the races more local in tone. And the party is still divided over the war in Iraq: Some Democrats, including Pelosi, call for a phased withdrawal; many others back a longer-term military and economic commitment.
The false premise is that oppositions win midterm elections by offering a clear program, such as the Republicans' 1994 Contract With America. I've been testing this idea with such architects of the 1994 "Republican revolution" as former representative Vin Weber and Tony Blankley, who was Newt Gingrich's top communications adviser and now edits the Washington Times editorial page.
Both said the main contribution of the contract was to give inexperienced Republican candidates something to say once the political tide started moving the GOP's way. But both insisted that it was disaffection with Bill Clinton, not the contract, that created the Republicans' opportunity -- something Bob Dole said at the time.
My attention to politics in 1994 was not such that I actually remember how the media treated Republicans at the time, but I simply cannot imagine this much endless speculative criticism about their chances in the midterms. (Feel free to correct me in the comments if I'm mistaken.) While I agree that there are certainly some problems with the Democratic leadership, I don't view those problems as insurmountable or even necessarily decisive in an election year. It's true that there is no single Democratic position on Iraq. It's also true that there is no single defining document summing up every Democratic policy position. But we've seen what happens when a party enters Washington with single-minded goals and uniformity of thought on every issue. That kind of failure to include new thinking leads to weak governance that relies more on faith than reality. It simply doesn't work.
I have always viewed the Democratic Party as something of a coalition party. In Canada, we'd be the Liberals and the New Democrats. In the UK, we'd be Labour and the Liberal Democrats. We are the center-left, the left, and the greens, with those further left tending to take refuge in minor third parties. The media looks at the single-minded Republicans, sees that they've won some elections, and assumes that since Democrats don't demand so much uniformity, that it's a problem. Personally, I view it as a strength, and I think more elected Democrats would do well to make that case. We're strong enough to disagree on some issues and yet come together to build a progressive government that works. I'm not convinced that we need a handbook to show us the way.